Wildfire near Yosemite burns into fourth weekView TRACIE CONE 5 hours agoSACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — As a gigantic wildfire in and around Yosemite National Park entered its fourth week Saturday, environmental scientists moved in to begin assessing the damage and protecting habitat and waterways before the fall rainy season.Members of the federal Burned Area Emergency Response team were hiking the rugged Sierra Nevada terrain even as thousands of firefighters still were battling the blaze, now the third-largest wildfire in modern California history.Federal officials have amassed a team of 50 scientists, more than twice what is usually deployed to assess wildfire damage. With so many people assigned to the job, they hope to have a preliminary report ready in two weeks so remediation can start before the first storms, Alex Janicki, the Stanislaus National Forest BAER response coordinator, said.Team members are working to identify areas at the highest risk for erosion into streams, the Tuolumne River and the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, San Francisco’s famously pure water supply.The wildfire started in the Stanislaus National Forest on Aug. 17 when a hunter’s illegal fire swept out of control and has burned 394 square miles of timber, meadows and sensitive wildlife habitat.It has cost more than $89 million to fight, and officials say it will cost tens of millions of dollars more to repair the environmental damage alone.About 5 square miles of the burned area is in the watershed of the municipal reservoir serving 2.8 million people – the only one in a national park.”That’s 5 square miles of watershed with very steep slopes,” Janicki said „We are going to need some engineering to protect them.”View gallery.”In this photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service, Crews clear California Highway 120 of debris, as …So far the water remains clear despite falling ash, and the city water utility has a six month supply in reservoirs closer to the Bay Area.The BAER team will be made up of hydrologists, botanists, archeologists, biologists, geologists and soil scientists from the U.S. Forest Service, Yosemite National Park, the Natural Resource Conservation and the U.S. Geological Survey.The team also will look at potential for erosion and mudslides across the burn area, assess what’s in the path and determine what most needs protecting.”We’re looking to evaluate what the potential is for flooding across the burned area,” said Alan Gallegos, a team member and geologist with the Sierra National Forest. „We evaluate the potential for hazard and look at what’s at risk — life, property, cultural resources, species habitat. Then we come up with a list of treatments.”In key areas with a high potential for erosion ecologists can dig ditches to divert water, plant native trees and grasses, and spray costly hydro-mulch across steep canyon walls in the most critical places.Fire officials still have not released the name of the hunter responsible for starting the blaze. On Friday Kent Delbon, the lead investigator, would not characterize what kind of fire the hunter had set or how they had identified the suspect.”I can say some really good detective work out there made this thing happen,” he told the Associated Press.Delbon said the Forest Service announced the cause of the fire before being able to release details in order to end rumors started by a local fire chief that the blaze ignited in an illegal marijuana garden.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has been keeping its unblinking eye on our Sun since 2009, and over the past two weeks it has been seeing some amazing activity that shows just how dynamic our Sun can be.Some of the best views that SDO captures are of activity on the ‘limbs’ of the Sun — the left and right edges of the Sun, where we can see things against the blackness of space. From Aug. 27 to 28, the satellite saw arching loops on the eastern limb, showing solar plasma flowing along magnetic field lines.In the days after that, these archs were lost against the brightness of the Sun’s surface, but then, a little over a week later, on Sept. 4 and 5, SDO watched as the same active region reach the western limb, so that the show could continue.The Sun’s magnetic field extends far, far out into space, well past the orbit of Pluto. Voyager 1, which may or may not have left the solar system (several times now), is still seeing the influence of the solar magnetic field even though it’s over 18.7 billion kilometres away. However, since the Sun is a huge ball of super-heated plasma, small circulations of that plasma create smaller magnetic fields that poke out from the surface, and the charged plasma flows along the magnetic field lines, making them show up very clearly against the blackness of space.[ More Geekquinox: Weird Science Weekly: King Richard III had royal roundworms ]Since sunlight looks so constant from Earth, it’s easy to forget that this kind of activity is going on nearly all the time. Thanks to NASA and the SDO team, though, we’re always kept informed of what’s really going on at the centre of our solar system.Geek out with the latest in science and weather.Follow @ygeekquinox on Twitter!
NASA launches spacecraft to study Moon atmosphereView gallery 19 hours ago Science, Social Science, & HumanitiesSpace & AstronomyNASA NASA has launched an unmanned spacecraft that aims to study the Moon’s atmosphere, the US space agency’s third lunar probe in five years.Blazing a red path in the night sky, the spacecraft lifted off at 11:27 pm (Saturday 0327 GMT) aboard a converted Air Force ballistic missile known as the Minotaur V rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.NASA said there was a „situation” with the spacecraft’s reaction wheels, which help orient the spacecraft, without elaborating.But „the spacecraft is communicating and working as designed, with plenty of time to resolve the issue before reaching lunar orbit,” it added on its website.The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) hopes to learn more about the atmosphere and dust while circling the Moon.Launch manager Doug Voss said the maiden mission for the five-stage rocket operated by Orbital Sciences Corporation was „nearly picture-perfect.””It’s quite a great ending to what has been a fantastic mission, a very unique mission.”When US astronauts last walked on the Moon four decades ago, they learned that dust could be a huge problem for sensitive spacecraft and equipment, said space expert John Logsdon.View gallery.”In this NASA photo obtained August 28, 2013, engineers at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia …”If we were ever to go there with people for long duration, the dust gets in everything. It’s not smooth dust like a piece of sand on the beach. It’s made of very, very small fragments,” said Logsdon, a NASA adviser and former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.”All the Apollo crews complained about the lunar dust getting everywhere.”US astronauts first walked on the Moon in 1969, and the last explorers of the Apollo era visited in 1972.The Moon’s atmosphere is so thin that its molecules do not collide, in what is known as an exosphere.Exploring that exosphere will be a $280 million solar and lithium battery-powered spacecraft about the size of a small car — nearly eight feet (2.4 meters) tall and five feet wide.The journey to the Moon will take a full month.When the spacecraft first enters the Moon’s orbit on October 6, it will cruise at a height of about 155 miles (250 kilometers) for 40 days, and then move lower at 12.4 to 37.3 miles from the surface for the science portion of its mission.It is carrying an Earth-to-Moon laser beam technology demonstration and three main tools, including a neutral mass spectrometer to measure chemical variations in the lunar atmosphere and other tools to analyze exosphere gasses and lunar dust grains.View gallery.”File picture shows the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, (LADEE) spacecraft in the nos …”These measurements will help scientists address longstanding mysteries, including: was lunar dust, electrically charged by solar ultraviolet light, responsible for the pre-sunrise horizon glow that the Apollo astronauts saw?” NASA said.Other instruments will seek out water molecules in the lunar atmosphere.One hundred days into the science portion of the mission, LADEE will make a death plunge into the Moon’s surface.The spacecraft was made in a modular design that aims to „ease the manufacturing and assembly process” and „drastically reduce the cost of spacecraft development,” NASA said.This module could pave the way for unmanned probes to an asteroid or to Mars, as well as future Moon probes, though none are planned for now.LADEE was conceived when NASA was planning to return humans to the Moon as part of the Constellation program, which President Barack Obama cancelled in 2010 for being over budget and redundant in its goals.NASA’s next big human exploration project plans to send humans to Mars by the 2030s.Recent NASA robotic missions include the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which returned troves of images detailing the Moon’s cratered surface, and the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL), which revealed how being pummeled by asteroids resulted in the Moon’s uneven patches of gravity.A previous NASA satellite, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), discovered water ice when it impacted in 2009, the space agency said.
A brief history of chemical warfareView galleryAmerican soldiers during World War I stage a photo illustrating the ill effects of forgetting one’s gas mask.Harold Maass 18 hours ago The Week Politics How long have poisonous weapons been used?For more than 2,000 years. As early as 600 B.C., the Athenians poisoned the wells of the Spartans, who later tried lobbing burning sulfur pitch over the walls of Athens, hoping to fill the city with toxic smoke. Genghis Khan used that same trick, catapulting burning sulfur pitch during his siege of fortified cities around A.D. 1200. Over the centuries, various armies put poisons on arrows and in bullets to make them more lethal. But it wasn’t until the 19th and 20th centuries that mankind began developing toxins and poison gases of devastating lethality, including mustard gas, chlorine, and the nerve gas sarin. Even before these gases were used in war, they created a special kind of fear and moral revulsion.What makes these weapons different?In a literal sense, they’re not, since the goal of warfare is to kill lots of people in an efficient way. Bombs, missiles, and other munitions achieve very similar results, especially when dropped on civilian areas. But chemical weapons evoke a strong emotional response, perhaps because they can be invisible, and victims often suffer slow and agonizing deaths, convulsing and gasping for breath. „This ‘chemical weapons taboo’ appears to have originated in the innate human aversion to poisonous substances,” says Jonathan Tucker, author of a history of chemical weapons. Tucker says that established nations also look at such weapons as cowardly and ignoble — as a „duplicitous use of poison by the weak to defeat the strong without a fair physical fight.”When were chemical weapons banned?As societies became capable of manufacturing large quantities of poison chemicals, there were repeated attempts to make the use of them taboo. In 1874, European nations attending the Brussels Convention on the rules of war called for — but did not approve — a ban on the „employment of poison or poisoned weapons.” In 1899, major Western nations participating in the Hague Peace Conference went further, approving an agreement to prohibit the firing of any projectiles „the sole object of which is the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases.” The ban didn’t stand long.What happened?World War I. On April 22, 1915, Germany attacked Allied troops outside Ypres, Belgium, with chlorine gas. It was the first time a lethal gas had been used on a large scale in a modern war. „Suddenly we saw… this yellow wall moving quite slowly towards our lines,” recounted Archibald James of the Royal Flying Corps. „We hadn’t any idea what it was.” French soldiers were enveloped by the gas, and began choking. Many made the mistake of diving for cover at the bottom of their trenches, where the gas — heavier than air — collected in a lethal cloud. When it was over, British soldier Lendon Payne said, the Allied line „was absolutely covered with bodies of gassed men. Must have been over 1,000 of them.”How did the world react?The Allies saw how effective gases could be, and started using them. Both sides went on to use phosgene, a choking agent, and mustard gas, which causes painful burns and blisters. By the end of the Great War — dubbed by historians „the chemists’ war” — more than 90,000 soldiers had been killed by poison gas, many succumbing only after days or weeks of agony. A million more were injured — many blinded for life. The world’s horror led the League of Nations in 1925 to draft the Geneva Protocol, banning chemical weapons in war and declaring that their use „has been justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilized world.” Most nations signed on (though the U.S. did not until 1975).Did the Protocol end their use?No, but it effectively stigmatized them so that only rogue nations have used them since. Even the Nazis — who used gas to murder prisoners en masse in concentration camps — never unleashed gases on the battlefield. Still, the Geneva Protocol only banned using chemical weapons in war; it did not prohibit countries from producing and stockpiling them, and countries, including the U.S., did just that for decades, to serve as a deterrent to other nations. Only after the Cold War ended did the U.S. and the Soviet Union sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, and begin to slowly incinerate their vast storehouses of chemical weapons.Why did Syria get them?Syria began stockpiling chemical weapons in the 1970s and ’80s, after losing three consecutive wars to Israel. The Syrians saw chemical weapons — which have been called „the poor man’s nuclear weapon” — as a last resort to counter Israel’s military superiority and nuclear arsenal. Syria has been steadily manufacturing chemical weapons ever since. Intelligence services have estimated Syria’s stockpile at 1,000 tons of chemical weapons, stashed in 50 facilities. Syria, says former Pentagon official Steven Bucci, has become „the superpower of chemical weapons.” With its back against the wall, the regime has proven its willingness to use them.-When Saddam was our friend–Saddam Hussein enjoyed U.S. support in his long war with Iran in the 1980s — even after Iraq repeatedly used chemical weapons. Iraq used mustard gas against the Iranians in 1983, with no objection from the Reagan administration. In 1987, Foreign Policy magazine reported last week, the U.S. gave Saddam intelligence that an Iranian invasion was imminent at a hole in Iraq’s defenses. „An Iranian victory is unacceptable,” President Reagan wrote on an intelligence report. In response to the U.S. warning, Saddam repeatedly attacked Iranian forces with sarin, killing more than 20,000 and injuring thousands more. He later used sarin to kill more than 5,000 Kurds to put down an uprising in northern Iraq. Retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 attacks, told Foreign Policy that the U.S. chose to ignore Saddam’s use of chemical weapons because Iraq was seen as the lesser of two evils. „The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas,” Francona said. „They didn’t have to. We already knew.”View this article on TheWeek.com Get 4 Free Issues of The Week
By Mariya Gordeyeva ASTANA (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping struck a deal with Kazakhstan on Saturday giving China a stake in its giant Kashagan oil project, a highlight of his tour of Central Asia to secure hydrocarbons for the world’s largest energy consumer.The $5 billion deal further increases China’s rising clout in post-Soviet Central Asia, once Russia’s imperial backyard, and blocks an attempt by global rival India to get a stake in the oilfield, the world’s largest oil discovery in five decades.”The two countries have agreed on China’s shareholding in the development of the Kashagan deposit,” Xi told a news briefing after talks with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. „The two governments hail and support this agreement.”Oil and gas deals, including on building an oil refinery in Kazakhstan, are among 22 agreements worth some $30 billion reached during Xi’s visit, Nazarbayev said.Under the Kashagan deal, Kazakhstan will sell 8.33 percent of the offshore oilfield in the Caspian Sea to China for about $5 billion.The sale and purchase agreement was signed by the heads of Kazakh state oil and gas company KazMunaiGas and China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) in the presence of the two presidents.”We suppose that the transaction will be closed by late September or late October,” a Kazakh official told Reuters.CNPC will also pay up to $3 billion to cover half of Kazakhstan’s financing of the second phase of Kashagan’s development, KazMunaiGas head Sauat Mynbayev told reporters. This phase is expected to start after 2020.Another draft agreement, seen by Reuters, would guarantee loans from The China Development Bank and The Export-Import Bank of China – worth respectively $3 billion and $5 billion – to Kazakhstan’s state holding firm Baiterek, which promotes innovation and industrial projects.China is already involved in a number of oil projects in its vast resource-rich neighbor, which is five times the size of France but has a population of just 17 million.This week, Xi visited Kazakhstan’s neighbor Turkmenistan, which holds the world’s fourth-largest natural gas reserves, and oversaw deals aiming to boost gas supplies and build a pipeline to China.INDIA’S HOPES DASHED–The Kazakh deal comes after Astana decided in July to use its pre-emptive right to buy an 8.4-percent stake in Kashagan that U.S. oil major ConocoPhillips was selling for $5 billion.Houston-based ConocoPhillips, whittling down its worldwide portfolio of assets, announced last year it had agreed to sell the stake to ONGC , the overseas arm of the Indian state-run company.The sale to CNPC blocks India’s plan to enter Kashagan.Kazakhstan, home to 3 percent of the world’s recoverable oil reserves, has moved in recent years to exert greater management control and secure bigger revenues from foreign-owned oil and gas projects.KazMunaiGas entered the Kashagan consortium as a shareholder in 2005 and has since then doubled its stake to 16.81 percent.Kashagan and neighboring fields in the North Caspian hold estimated reserves of 35 billion barrels of oil, with between 9 billion and 13 billion barrels recoverable.A multinational consortium developing the field has invested some $50 billion in about 13 years, making it the costliest oil project in the world.Trial runs at the giant reservoir off western Kazakhstan are set to begin on Monday, and it may take between three weeks and a month before commercial production starts, Mynbayev said.During Kashagan’s development, production will be gradually increased to 370,000 barrels per day in the second stage from 180,000 bpd in the first stage in 2013-14, according to North Caspian Operating Company (NCOC), which is developing the field.Italy’s ENI , U.S. major ExxonMobil , Royal Dutch Shell and France’s Total each hold 16.81 percent stakes in Kashagan. Japan’s Inpex owns 7.56 percent.(Additional reporting by Raushan Nurshayeva; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Andrew Roche)
Hurricane Season Update: Nearing Record Late First Atlantic Hurricane Jon Erdman Published: Sep 7, 2013, 7:07 AM EDT weather.comRECORD BREAKING Hurricane season!Winds of Change for Hurricane SeasonWatching Several SystemsAs the first video above lays out, the Atlantic hurricane season is poised to set a record. Specifically, we’re approaching the date of the latest first Atlantic hurricane in the satellite era, Sep. 11, 2002 (Gustav).2013 Named Storm Tracks
It’s not as if we haven’t had a number of named storms. While only lasting just over 24 hours, Gabrielle soaked Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. This „G” storm was born a full 12 days ahead of the average season pace.Short-lived, but tenacious Tropical Storm Fernand, was born too close to the Mexican coast in the Bay of Campeche to allow sufficient time to strengthen any further.The previous three storms, Chantal, Dorian, and Erin, all succumbed to dry air and/or wind shear in the main development region before they could strengthen into hurricanes.In the satellite era (since 1960), the Atlantic Basin had never previously gone through seven named storms without a single one becoming a hurricane. In the aforementioned 2002 season, the seventh named storm, „Gustav” did become a hurricane. Weather Underground’s Director of Meteorology, Dr. Jeff Masters, says a measure of tropical cyclone activity (the ACE index), was the lowest for August since 1966. Sr. Meteorologist, Stu Ostro (Facebook | Twitter) now says the season-to-date ACE index for the Atlantic Basin is less than one-quarter the average value through the first four days of September.(MORE: Weather Underground ACE Index Tracking Page)How unusual is this? Does that mean the rest of the season will be quiet?Atlantic Basin Satellite
Furthermore, the season’s third hurricane develops, on average, by September 9. So, we’re almost three hurricanes behind the average season pace. Put another way, given the Atlantic Basin typically produces six hurricanes a season, we’ve almost missed half an average season’s hurricanes in 2013.By September 4, we would have had our first „major” hurricane (Category 3 or higher) in a „typical” season.Persistent pockets of dry air and/or wind shear in parts of the southwest, central and eastern Atlantic Ocean have taken their toll on the ability of the season’s tropical cyclones to strengthen. Current forecast guidance is expecting a tropical wave emerging off western Africa to strengthen into the next Atlantic named storm early next week. With that said, this same guidance has thrown several head fakes this season on tropical cyclogenesis off Africa. Therefore, it is possible the 2013 season may sail past the previous latest first Atlantic hurricane record.(MORE: Expert Tropical Analysis | East Atlantic Satellite)
Not a Harbinger of a Quiet Season
Years without an Atlantic hurricane through August all featured a number of hurricanes from September through the end of the season.In the 30-year period from 1981-2010 the Atlantic Basin has averaged six hurricanes each season. As we’ve stated before many times, where the hurricanes track, not just numbers of hurricanes, is of ultimate importance for impact in any season.That said, the graphic at right indicates the total number of hurricanes in each of five seasons lacking a hurricane through August.As you can see in the slideshow at the bottom of this article, each of the five seasons featured at least one impactful, and in some cases intense, hurricane. What was at the time the most intense Atlantic Basin hurricane on record, Hurricane Gilbert, occurred in the hurricane-tardy 1988 season.Hurricane Michelle in 2001 was the costliest tropical cyclone on record in Cuba (later topped by 2008’s Hurricane Ike).In 2002, Hurricane Lili was nearly a billion-dollar hurricane as it slammed into the Louisiana coast, not to mention the flooding it triggered in Haiti and Jamaica, and the heavy wind damage in western Cuba. Seven hurricane names were retired in those five late-start hurricane seasons. A committee of the World Meteorological Organization retires Atlantic hurricane names from future use when a storm is particularly deadly and/or destructive.Typical Atlantic Season Activity
Still a Long Way to Go
The bottom line, here, is a late first hurricane has not historically correlated to an inactive Atlantic hurricane season.
We’re now in the peak of the hurricane season, the time during which vertical wind shear is at a minimum and instability, or the ability of the atmosphere to generate thunderstorms, is maximized.
An „average” Atlantic hurricane season (1981-2010) would still deliver the following after Sep. 7:
Put another way, 61% of all Atlantic named storms form from September through the end of the season.
Despite the inability of Chantal, Dorian and Erin to become hurricanes, all three managed to form in the deep tropics, well east of the Lesser Antilles. This is typically a sign of an active hurricane season.
(VIDEO: Tropical Update)In the satellite era (since 1960), the fewest Atlantic hurricanes in any season was two in 1982. Seven other seasons since 1960 have had only three Atlantic Basin hurricanes. It only takes one hurricane taking a destructive path, such as what occurred in 1983 (Alicia) and 1992 (Andrew).Do you have a hurricane plan? Do you know if you live in an evacuation zone? Do you have adequate supplies for at least three days without electricity? Now is the time to prepare. (HURRICANE LISTS: Most Devastating | Most Forgotten | Strangest Locations)SLIDESHOW: Past „Late Hurricane” Seasons’ Most Impactful Hurricanes1 / 52002: Hurricane Lili